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Art Beyond Sight - Laboratory for Learning

Advisory Board

    • Sheila Amato, Adjunct Braille Instructor, West Virginia University.
    • Karen Blankenship, Vanderbilt University.
    • Jeannette Christie, the New York City Branch Manager and the Parent Representative of The New York City Affiliate of the National Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments, Inc.
    • John E. Dowling, Gordon and Llura Gund Professor of Neurosciences, Harvard University.
    • Carole Gothelf, Director of Individualized Supports for AHRC-New York City.
    • Bernadette Kappen, Executive Director of the New York Institute for Special Education.
    • Srikala Naraian, Preservice Inclusive Elementary Education Program in the Dept of Curriculum and Teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University.
    •  Jerry Petroff, College of New Jersey, School of Education in the Department of Special Education, Language and Literacy.
    • Sharon Z. Sacks, Director of Curriculum & Professional Development at the California School for the Blind.
    • Brandi Simonsen, Special Education in the Neag School of Education and Center for Behavioral Education and Research (CBER) at the University of Connecticut.
    • Shari Tishman, Director of Harvard Project Zero and a Lecturer on Education at Harvard Graduate School of Education.
    • Geerat J. Vermeij, Distinguished Professor of Geology at the University of California, Davis.
    • Stuart Wittenstein, Superintendent of the California School

More about our Advisory Board

Sheila AmatoSheila Amato, a native New Yorker (who recently moved to the mountains of West Virginia), is passionate about braille. She reads about it, teaches it, conducts research studies on the best ways to teach it, and writes articles about it. Dr. Amato earned her MA, Ed.M, and Ed.D. at Teachers College, Columbia University in Instructional Practices in Special Education/Blindness and Visual Impairment. She earned her certification as a literary braille transcriber from the National Library Service; the Library of Congress in 1978. Culminating a 38-year public and state school teaching career, she is a recently-retired teacher of students who have visual impairments ranging from low vision to deafblindness. While continuing to work in our field as an adjunct university braille instructor at New Mexico State University, West Virginia University, Salus University and Dominican College, braille remains an integral part of her daily life. Other professional activities include being an evaluator for the New York State Teacher Certification Examinations as a Blind and Visually Impaired Content Specialist as well as an evaluator for the national braille Praxis exam, the Editor of The Division on Visual Impairments Quarterly (DVIQ); The Council for Exceptional Children (DVI/CEC), and a member of the Test Development Committee for the National Certification in Literary Braille (NCLB) exam. In addition to sharing her home with 5 Perkins braillers, several assorted slates and styli, and an embosser, Sheila lives with her husband, Tony (her computer guru) and 5 cats. Other areas of interest include kayaking with her grandchildren, collecting music CDs of street musicians heard while traveling, playing the cymbals in a professional marching band, and playing soccer.

Karen Blankenship has been a certified teacher of students who are blind or visually impaired (TVI) since 1976. Both her bachelor’s degree in elementary education/blind and visually impaired and her Ph.D. in special education with an emphasis on blind and visually impaired were obtained at Vanderbilt University. Before accepting the faculty position at Vanderbilt in 2008 she worked as a TVI in the Metropolitan Nashville Public School District for over 20 years and as the Consultant for Visual Disabilities and the Deafblind Project Director at the Iowa Department of Education for 8 years. Her research and professional passion is centered on the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) for children and youth who are blind or visually impaired.

Jeannette ChristieJeannette Christie is the New York City Branch Manager and the Parent Representative of The New York City Affiliate of the National Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments, Inc. (NYC-NAPVI). Jeannette is the mother of a visually impaired 16 year-old teen with Achromatopsia. She has established great relationships with the schools for the blind as well as with the agencies that provides services to the children who are visually impaired and blind.  Her mission is to provide families with information, resources and most importantly emotional support.

John E. DowlingJohn E. Dowling received his A.B. and Ph.D. from Harvard   University.  He taught in the Biology Department at Harvard from 1961 to 1964, first as an Instructor, then as Assistant Professor.  In 1964 he moved to Johns Hopkins University, where he held an appointment as Associate Professor of Ophthalmology and Biophysics.  He returned to Harvard as Professor of Biology in 1971, was the Maria Moors Cabot Professor of Natural Sciences from 1971-2001, Harvard College Professor from 1999-2004 and is presently the Gordon and Llura Gund Professor of Neurosciences.  He was Chairman of the Biology Department at Harvard from 1975 to 1978 and served as Associate Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences from 1980 to 1984.  He was Master of Leverett House at Harvard from 1981-1998 and served as President of the Corporation of The Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole from 1998-2008.  He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a member of the American Philosophical Society.   He received the Friedenwald Medal from the Association of Research in Ophthalmology and Vision in 1970, the Annual Award of the New England Ophthalmological Society in 1979, the Retinal Research Foundation Award for Retinal Research in 1981, an Alcon Vision Research Recognition Award in 1986,  a National Eye Institute’s MERIT award in 1987,  the Von Sallman Prize in 1992, The Helen Keller Prize for Vision Research in 2000, the Llura Ligget Gund Award for Lifetime Achievement and Recognition of Contribution to the Foundation Fighting Blindness in 2001, the Paul Kayser International Award in Retina Research in 2008 and the Glenn A. Fry Medal in Physiological Optics in 2009.  He was granted an honorary M.D. degree by the University of Lund (Sweden) in 1982.

Carole GothelfCarole Gothelf is the Director of Individualized Supports for AHRC-New York City. For over thirty years, Dr. Gothelf has provided person-centered services for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities, including people with autism, vision and hearing loss.  She is focused on Person Centered Planning, the transition from school to adult life, and the development of individualized housing, opportunities for higher education, access to popular culture and community life.

Bernadette KappenBernadette Kappen is the executive director of the New York Institute for Special Education, Dr. Kappen has spent her entire teaching and administrative career working in the education of children with visual and hearing impairments and additional disabilities. During her time at the Overbrook School for the Blind in Philadelphia, where she eventually became director, Dr. Kappen worked with children and their families to develop language and communication programs with curricula that offered them skills for the future. Her programs became models for other professionals. Dr. Kappen was recognized as “a compassionate leader” by Pennsylvania’s Bureau of Special Education and was honored by the Governor of Pennsylvania as “an extraordinary presence in special education”. “I feel I have been able to help children improve the quality of their lives through good educational opportunities and to support their families,” she says. “The isolation that the families and children face is sometimes greater than the disability.”

Srikala NaraianSrikala Naraian is an Assistant Professor in the Preservice Inclusive Elementary Education Program in the Dept of Curriculum and Teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University. A former public school teacher of students with blindness and visual impairments, her research interests include interpretive approaches to inclusive education, the education of students with significant disabilities, and the complexities of shifting to inclusive practices.  Her studies have focused on understanding the production of inclusive classroom communities. Situated within the disability studies in education tradition, she simultaneously draws on sociocultural perspectives on learning to investigate the processes by which schools and classrooms move towards greater inclusivity. She is also interested in the role of families within schooling contexts and has drawn extensively on their narratives within her research. She is currently working actively with the Teachers College Inclusive Classrooms Project on a variety of initiatives, including preparation of school personnel to support families of students with disabilities in New York City schools as well as a coalitional effort with the New York City Department of Education to promote the use of assistive technology in schools.  She has published in many journals including Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, International Journal of Inclusive Education, Teaching and Teacher Education, and International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education.

Jerry Petroff is an Associate Professor at The College of New Jersey, School of Education in the Department of Special Education, Language and Literacy. Dr. Petroff has over thirty years of experience working on behalf of students, youth and adults with disabilities. Holding a doctorate in psychological studies in special education, he has developed expertise in inclusive education, assistive technology (augmentative and alternative communication), and the transition of students with disabilities from school to adult life. Current areas of research and focus relate to the (1) promotion of co-teaching and collaborative consultation within local school districts and the organizational change necessary to assure high student achievement; (2) promotion of early communication in children with complex disabilities specifically those with compounded sensory impairment; (3) post school lives of youth who are deafblind; and (4) post-secondary opportunities for youth with intellectual and/r multiple disabilities. In addition, Dr. Petroff has conducted a variety of program evaluations of school districts; nonprofit agencies; and other educational related programs.

Sharon Z. SacksSharon Z. Sacks is Director of Curriculum and Professional Development at the California School for the Blind, where she was previously Assistant Superintendent. She was formerly Professor and Coordinator of the Teacher Preparation Program in Visual Impairments at California State University, Los Angeles. She has worked in the field of education and rehabilitation of blind and visually impaired individuals for almost 30 years as a resource and itinerant teacher of students with visual impairments, a home counselor for the Blind Babies Foundation, and a coordinator of teacher preparation in moderate and severe disabilities at San Jose State University. An executive editor of the journal RE:view and, with Karen Wolffe, co-editor of the Focused On Social Skills series of videos and study guides, she is also co-editor of Development of Social Skills by Blind and Visually Impaired Students: Exploratory Studies and Strategies and of Educating Students Who Have Visual Impairments with Other Disabilities. She has presented and published widely throughout the United States and abroad in the areas of social skills instruction for students with visual impairments, transition programming for students with visual impairments and multiple disabilities, psychosocial implications of low vision for students and adults, and issues related to braille literacy. Dr. Sacks is past president of the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired.

Brandi SimonsenBrandi Simonsen is an assistant professor of Special Education in the Neag School of Education and a research scientist with the Center for Behavioral Education and Research (CBER) at the University of Connecticut. Currently, Dr. Simonsen teaches, conducts research, publishes, and provides training/technical assistance in the areas of (a) school- and class-wide (tier 1) positive behavior interventions and support (PBIS), (b) targeted (tier 2) and individualized (tier 3) PBIS for students with intense learning and behavioral needs, and (c) applications of PBIS in alternative education settings. Before joining the faculty at University of Connecticut, Dr. Simonsen was the director of a non-public (alternative) school serving students with disabilities who presented with challenging educational and behavioral needs. In addition to serving as an administrator and clinician, Dr. Simonsen has previously been certified as a teacher of elementary general education and middle-secondary special education, and she has provided consultation to public schools.

Shari TishmanShari Tishman is the Director of Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where she is also a Senior Research Associate and a Lecturer in the Arts in Education program. Her research focuses on the development of thinking and understanding, learning in museums, and learning in and through the arts.



Geerat J. VermeijGeerat J. Vermeij is Distinguished Professor of Geology at the University of California, Davis. He is an evolutionary biologist/paleobiologist who teaches and writes extensively about the evolutionary history and ecology of life, with special reference to shell-bearing animals.  He has published well over 200 papers and six books, and has conducted field, museum, and library research all over the world, including aboard research ships in such out-of-the-way places as the Aleutian and northern Mariana Islands.  Prof. Vermeij has been blind since the age of three.  He was born in the Netherlands and still speaks, writes, and reads fluent Dutch.  He and his family immigrated to the United States when he was nine years old.  After high school, he took an A.B. degree at Princeton (summa cum laude) in 1968 and a Ph.D. three years later at Yale.  After seventeen years of teaching at the University of Maryland at College Park, he moved to UC Davis.  Vermeij received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1975 and a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship in 1992, as well as the Paleontological Society Medal in 2006.  Vermeij is married to Edith; they have one daughter and one grandson.

Stuart WittensteinStuart Wittenstein is in his 15th year as superintendent of the California School for the Blind. A strong advocate for Braille literacy, Dr. Wittenstein was the Braille teacher at the Texas School for the Blind and also taught the Braille and Nemeth Code courses in the teacher preparation programs of Hunter College and Teachers College, Columbia University. Dr. Wittenstein is the immediate past president of the Council of Schools for the Blind, a national organization of superintendents of special schools for blind learners. He is the chair of the Editorial Advisory Committee of the Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, the international journal of record in the blindness field. His published writings and presentations have been primarily in the areas of assessment, transition, braille literacy, legislative issues, and in the need for specialized services for individuals with visual impairments. He is co-editor of “Collaborative Assessment: Working with Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired, Including Those with Additional Disabilities,” a textbook used in preparing teachers to evaluate students who are blind. Dr. Wittenstein is a past president of the Division on Visual Impairments of the Council for Exceptional Children. In 1994 he received the division’s Outstanding Dissertation of the Year award and in 2006 he received the division’s Distinguished Service Award. Recent recognitions include:  Distinguished Member Award (2011) from the California Transcribers and Educators of the Blind and Visually Impaired; Humanitarian Award (2011) from the California Council of the Blind; Creative Use of Braille Award (2010, for the Lucky Touch Braille Fortune Cookie Company) from the American Printing House for the Blind; and the Grazer Outstanding Achievement in Learning Award (2011, for the Rocket Shop Café vocational training program) from the California Department of Education.


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